Hotel review: the Henry Manila

Mid-century vintage style comes alive in five 1940s houses converted into a charming boutique hotel

by Monica de Leon

The Henry Hotel Manila

Location Tucked away between Taft Avenue and Roxas Boulevard, near the Manila Bay end of EDSA.

First Impressions After braving traffic-choked EDSA, a turn on FB Harrison Street in Pasay City led me to The Henry Hotel Manila’s gated compound, home to five 1940s Liberia-style houses, housing the hotel’s public areas, rooms, and suites. A stone driveway led me to the main house, passing a beautiful sprawling garden with acacia and caballero trees designed by the late National Artist for Architecture and Father of Philippine Landscape Architecture Ildefonso Santos.

Arriving at The Henry Manila’s main house for check-in felt more like arriving in a friend’s charming white plantation house, with its wrap-around porch, surrounded by mature trees and tropical plants. Although the garden had been landscaped, it felt like all the flora had been there for ages, which they have. After all, this is a 1940s house.

A scala-grilled door – an art deco design feature popular in the 1940s – leads to the front desk. Baldosa tiles original to the house cover the floor, and accessories such as a vintage clock and geometric-patterned chandelier all lend character to the place.

General manager Miguel Capistrano III said an affluent Chinese family bought the one-hectare lot where the hotel now stands sometime in the 1940s and built several houses. Back then, the compound was open and had an unimpeded view of the Manila Bay area. The family matriarch leased out some of the houses to expatriates working in the nearby former Asian Development Bank head office, the United Nations, World Health Organization, and the US Embassy.

One of the 1940s houses on the hotel property

The Henry Hotel owner Hanky Lee converted the five houses in the compound to what is now The Henry Hotel Manila. His vision was to create boutique hotels in the Philippines with character.

Room. There are 34 rooms and suites distributed in the five houses, all with the same design features: Baldosa floor tiles or wooden floorboards; high ceiling; and dual aspect windows. The original features of the houses were retained, although some of the walls had to be knocked down to make for a better layout.

An upper floor classic room

Twenty nine rooms are classic rooms (20 sqm to 25 sqm), four are suites (40 sqm to 45 sqm), and one is the owner’s suite.

I was in the 501 suite with a separate living area and a French door that opens out to a private pocket garden. It’s romantic, furnished with an artsy chandelier, the lighting subdued. A double door opens to the bedroom, where on one end stands a claw foot bathtub and a sink. Facing the tub is a sliding wooden door that reveals a white-tiled separate toilet and shower.

Interior designer Eric Paras did a great job of scouring the country for old aparadors (wardrobes), which he recycled as statement pieces in all rooms and suites so no two aparadors at the hotel are the same. My suite’s living room has a woven red chair while most rooms have butaca chairs.

The living room at the owner's suite

In keeping with the vintage look, rustic gold is used to give the furniture pieces some zing – gold frame for the daybed and the ottoman; gold buttons on the edge of the upholstered headboard; gold colored stem for the table and the ceiling light. The pair of house guest slippers are labeled “right” and “wrong,” just to poke fun. The toiletries, recycled woven basket containers, bin and tissue holder are all locally made. Snacks in the mini bar include local cashew nuts, rosquillos and chocolate-coated dried mango.

The modcons? LED cable TV in the living room and bedroom, WiFi access, hot and cold running water – and gate to the house, which is card-key enabled.

Food.  You can get a bite to eat at Apartment 1B Restaurant, known for its consistent-quality gourmet comfort food. It’s not the hotel’s in-house restaurant, but rather, a consignor, renting out space from the hotel. The menu contains Apartment 1B’s bestsellers. For starters, try the soft and very tasty baked samosas or the house salad made of walnuts, grapes, and blue cheese with raspberry vinaigrette dressing. For mains, there’s the classic spaghetti Bolognese, the highly-recommended grilled blue marlin topped with chorizo relish, grilled vegetables on the side and a bed of pesto pasta. For dessert, my favorite is white truffle cheesecake with raspberry coulis. The salted caramel cheesecake torte is just as good.

Apartment 1B

Breakfast is served all day. An overnight stay at The Henry includes a complimentary deluxe continental breakfast, which includes coffee, tea, or chilled juice, fresh fruit, a bowl of salad, cereal and milk, assorted bread, butter and jam, and a choice of Egg Breakfast selections – corned beef hash, sausage patties, smoked bacon, sardines in olive oil, longganisa (local sausage), Vigan-style, beef tapa (marinated beef), bangus or marinated milkfish and chicken adobo flakes – served with eggs and fries.

There’s room service, but it’s much more pleasant eating breakfast al fresco at the restaurant’s porch.

Activities. Lots of pocket gardens for some peace and quiet and a small infinity pool. The Manila Bay, famous for its sunset and hotel strip, is just a short walk away. For shopping, SM Mall of Asia is a 15-minute drive away. A shuttle takes guests to the mall at 10am, and then picks them up at 3pm.

The Henry Hotel Manila's pool area

Service. Professional, friendly, prompt. I called the front desk a few times for help with the USB port and WiFi connection, and to ask for bottled water, and within minutes, I got what I needed.

I like. There are lots of things I love about this hotel – the overall feeling of escape when you look at the huge trees standing proud in the massive garden; the fine food; the beautiful rooms, wooden furnishings, and period details; cleanliness; homemade blend and coffee presser in my room for my morning cup. And having enough staff around.

Not so keen. Sometimes you can hear other guests in the hallway or footsteps from the upper room occupants. But then you’re in an old, “adaptively reused” house.

Verdict. Highly recommended. The Henry Manila transported me to another place and time even if I’m just minutes away from bustling Makati. Loved my suite.

Classic rooms are at P7,900 (about US$184) a night; suites are at P10,900 a night.

The Henry Manila, 2680 FB Harrison Street, Pasay City; Tel: +632 807 8888

Originally published in InFlight Traveller April to June 2015